27 February 2006

Creative Cities

The term “Creative City” was coined by Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class (2). He states that some cities attract those that are creative due to certain amenities. He states that those that are creative cities are those that rank high in the “Three T’s”-- Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Florida outlines what cities should do to become Creative Cities. Florida thinks that the economic development strategies that many cities use such as tax incentives are inadequate and not suitable for what Florida calls the Creative Age (my italics). He advocates center city redevelopment, a wide range of cultural opportunities, linkages between universities and the private sector, and a tolerant environment. (For further articles about the Creative class and Creative Cities go to Florida's webpage--CreativeClass.org http://www.creativeclass.org/.)

However, all are not convinced by Florida’s findings and prescriptions. In an opposing viewpoint, Malanga (3) states that Florida’s theories are seriously flawed:

Alhough Florida’s book bristles with charts and statistics showing how he constructed his various indexes and where cities rank on them, the professor, incredibly, doesn’t provide any data demonstrating that his creative cities actually have vibrant economies that perform well over time. A look at even the most simple economic indicators, in fact, shows that, far from being economic powerhouses, many of Florida’s favored cities are chronic underperformers.

Malanga continues to detail the many inaccuracies in Florida’s research. Essentially, he states that the Creative Cities concept is hype and is leading many cities to adopt strategies that will not directly lead to the Creative Class flocking to their cities or more employment growth. He does not accuse Florida of being an charlatan 'selling snake oil', but one could certainly imply this. Others are not so kind, as seen in the following blog: http://www.unit1.com/archives/2004/10/pop_tech_2004_r.php (As an interesting note, the following is Florida's rebuttal to some of his critics: http://www.americancity.org/article.php?id_article=39.)

In a recent issue of The Economist (1), the city of Jena, Germany was highlighted as the way that Germany should be developing. The secret of Jena’s present success, according to the article, is: 1) a university; 2) research parks; 3) innovative education system; 4) highly educated population; 5) innovative employment agency for the long-term unemployed 6) an environment for entrepreneurs; and 7) central city revitalization. The article continues by stating that there is a lack of local skilled labor, which will more than likely be drawn from other countries. On the downside, two major companies in the city may be downsizing and there is a lack of venture capital. Some of these themes are some of the same that are being touted by Florida.

Cities around the world in developed and developing nations are being transformed by the rapidily developing telecommunicatıons network and technology. Some are capitilizıng on these advantages whıle others are left struggling and trying to fınd solutıons. There is no secret formula for the adapting and transforming a declining city into one that is dynamic and 'riding the next wave'. What makes a good city will also be ones that will be ones that attract all kinds of people, including the Creative Class. What would these be? They would be the 'usual suspects': good health care, good education, good transportation systems, well developed infrstructure (including communıcatıons), low pollution levels, clean water, recreation, affordable housing and a wide variety of employment opportunities. Turning a city into a 'bohemian paradıse' as implied by Florida is a naive and simplistic solution. Granted encouraging entrepreneurship, creative ventures, the arts etc. is a very important element of a city. Nevertheless, it just just one part of the urban economy. There are several academicians that are explorıng the cultural economy such as Allan Scott (4, 5). There needs to be much more research in these areas to understand the linkages at various scales.

How can cıties that developed durıng the Industrial Age transform themselves in the New Economy? I would welcome any comments on criticisms or support of Richard Florida's ideas.

1. The Economist, 2006, Reincarnation valley: The City of Jena provides a tantalizing glimpse of the way Germany should be going, 11-17 February 2006, pp. 18-19.

2. R. Florida, 2002, Rise of the creative class, Basic Books.

3. S. Malanga, 2004. The curse of the creative class, City Journal, Winter 2004, http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_1_the_curse.html

4. A.J. Scott, (1997a) The cultural economy of cities. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21, 323–333.

5. A.J. Scott, (2000), The Cultural Economy of Cities. Sage, London.

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